Sight At The Museum: Celeb-Spotting With Marina Abramović


In her work “The Artist is Present,” Marina Abramović invites any museum-goer to sit face to face with her, in silence, for as long as the museum-goer wants. So art is great and everything — wait, is that Sharon Stone?

Why yes, I believe so. The actress sat with the Serbian performance artist for 10 minutes on Day 18 of the marathon work, which began March 14 and runs through May 31.

Singer Rufus Wainwright also pops up on the Museum of Modern Art’s Flickr page, which is full of portraits of the hundreds of people who have sat with Abramović since it opened. He came for 8 minutes on Day 6.

Also on Day 6, Lou Reed turned up. He sat for 9 minutes.

And that’s Christiane Amanpour. She came for 2 minutes on Day 34.

Hotel impresario and ex of Uma Thurman, André Balazs, stopped by for 16 minutes on Day 4.

Writer Colm Tóibín sat with Abramović for 16 minutes on Day 32. Which was long enough to write this appreciation for the New York Review of Books:

It was like being brought into a room in Enniscorthy when I was a child on the day after a neighbour had died and being allowed to look at the corpse’s face. You studied Abramović’s face with the same mystified intensity, as though it would yield something — not come alive exactly, but in its very stillness offer something, an image maybe, that you should know and remember.
The gazing came in waves. Sometimes it was easy to relax and just look, and blink when you had to, and then look harder. She was always looking directly at your eyes. Her face was not like a mask. Just as the face of someone who has recently died can seem to flicker or move, so too her face seemed at times infinitely suggestive and vulnerable. But it was also sexual, sensuous, spiritual, and that made me both fascinated and uncomfortable. It made me feel that I could spend the day there opposite her, and maybe the next day too, and it also made me want to go, it made me consider at what point I would leave.

There was also this woman. On Day 4, she sat for 600 minutes, a full day, from the time the museum opened in the morning until the guards closed the gallery at night. She was dressed in a long blue robe of a similar style to the artist’s own, and she wore her dark hair in a single plait that, like Abramović’s, came around over one shoulder. Her name is Anya Liftig, and she is a performance artist based in (where else?) Brooklyn. She told BOMB‘s website that she intended her attendance at/participation in Abramović’s work as a performance piece of her own, one titled, “The Anxiety of Influence.”

Anyone looking at the Flickr stream would be hard-pressed not to notice this man, who isn’t a celebrity… but should be. His face appears in the series every few days or so. He is often crying. Here he is, from top left, on Day 3, Day 5, Day 11, Day 14, Day 26, Day 27, Day 30, Day 33, and Day 34. He has also visited on Day 35, Day 37, and Day 38. By my count, he’s spent a total of at least 743 minutes in Abramović’s presence. Is he a fellow artist? A devoted fan? A writer? A stalker? I don’t know.

One of the first people to sit with Abramović was her former partner, the artist Ulay. They worked together for a dozen years, and the New Yorker‘s Judith Thurman gave this account of their last work together, which took place in 1988. They had begun planning a walk together on the Great Wall of China when they were a happy couple. By the time they had arranged the logistics permissions for the months-long trip, they no longer wanted to be together. So:

Their parting was wrenching for Abramović, whose nerves can defy almost any blow except for abandonment. She still believes in true love, and she dispenses affection with a lavishness as intense as her craving for it. But, she reflected, “people put so much effort into starting a relationship and so little effort into ending one.” On March 30, 1988, they embarked on their last performance. She started walking the Great Wall of China from the East, where it rises in the Mountains, and Ulay set off from the West, where it ends in the desert. After three months, and thousands of miles, they met in the middle, and said goodbye.

This moment, right here, was the next time the two made art together. Although, of course, now Ulay is no longer Abramović’s collaborator — he was instead a participant in her piece.

Flickr: Museum of Modern Art [Flickr]
The Artist Is Present [Museum of Modern Art]
Walking Through Walls [New Yorker]
Still Drama: Marina At MoMA [NYRB]
The Anxiety of Influence [BOMBsite]

Performance Artist Makes Random People Cry

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